4th December Journal Column

By Stephen Jones, Business Manager, Elas

I’ve always thought that businesses in the industry focused too much on safety rather than health. There have been big improvements and preventions put in place to reduce the number of construction related injuries, but health issues continue to affect workers. Thankfully, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have finally done something about it!

The HSE have produced specialist guidance in a bid to improve the management of health risks within the industry.
The new guide written by The Construction Industry Advisory Committee (ConIAC) with the help of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) offers practical advice on what health risks mean for the industry as well as offering advice on how to prevent such risks.
Whilst plenty is done to manage safety issues, serious health issues in the past have been ignored. I’m not saying people aren’t making the effort, I just think maybe there’s confusion over occupational health, about how serious risks can be and how they could be prevented.

A recent inspection across construction sites revealed that there was a misunderstanding of what occupational actually meant. During the inspection HSE more than 200 health-related enforcement notices were issued – proving there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Many employers are failing to meet the required levels of health screening for their employees. Regular health screening for Hearing Tests, Lung Function Testing and Hand Arm Vibration testing (HAVS) all being mandatory are being overlooked.

The main health risks relating to construction work range from; cancer to work related stress and asbestos. The Health and Safety Executive estimates that past exposures in the construction sector annually cause over 5,000 occupational cancer cases and 3,700 deaths.
When shocking figures are showing that workers are at least 100 times more likely to die from a disease that was made worse or caused by work, something must be done.

Those working in the construction industry make up only five per cent of UK workers; however they make up 27 per cent of work related fatality cases and 10 per cent of major injuries in the workplace, something must be done to change this figure – which is what I’m hoping the new guide can help with.

The guide raises awareness of occupational health and provides information about where firms can get help and assistance.
If the advice is followed, it could help to lower occupational ill-health rates and change the perception of careers in construction, to an industry that is safe and more attractive.

The guidance is there to be followed, and make working life easier and safer, so I urge all companies to take full advantage of it, use all the resources that are available to you and let’s make 2016 the industries safest year yet!

For more information on your legal obligations for occupational health and what you need to do you can contact Stephen Jones on 07747 626 139 or email Stephen.jones@elas.uk.com.

27th November Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Remember a few weeks back when Chancellor George Osborne announced the new apprenticeship levy which was to be paid by ‘every big company’ in England? Well, according to speculation that could be all about to change, and the potential new changes could massively affect small to medium sized businesses.

This week the government suggested that it may cut the definition of ‘larger’ companies from those with 250 plus staff down to as few as 50 employees. This would result in thousands more companies in the industry paying two apprenticeship levies, which when the apprenticeship levy was suggested back in October, companies made it very clear they wouldn’t be willing to do – completely understandable in an industry where margins are tight.

The possible shift in policy was aired at a meeting held last week at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), attended by a number of construction sector organisations.

However, the view from the CBI was that the 50 employee threshold being floated in government circles was nothing more than a “scare tactic” and could well be revised upwards to 100 staff. Scare tactic indeed, it certainly scares me, as a supporter of both SMEs and apprenticeships, who knows how the change could affect apprentices.

So far the only reasonable solution that has been suggested is that the rate at which the new levy is paid would be tiered; meaning smaller firms which cross the new, lower threshold would pay less than the larger companies.

Luckily by Wednesday all speculation stopped, with the Chancellor’s spending review telling us that the new apprenticeship levy will be set at a £15,000 threshold for employers, meaning that the new levy will only be paid on employers’ pay bills of more than £3 million, so essentially larger companies.

According to the Chancellor fewer than two per cent of employers will pay the levy, meaning small and medium sized businesses can breathe a sigh of relief and probably feel a lot better now than they did at the beginning of the week.

 

The apprenticeship levy is set to be implemented from 2017. It was designed to increase investment in training and forms part of the government’s pledge to support three million apprenticeships by 2020, which according to Mr Osborne it is still on track to do. The levy will raise £3 billion a year and promises that employers paying into it will get out more than they put it.

So for now, we’re a lot more in the know than we were at the beginning of the week, with speculations appearing left right and centre. We now know who will have to pay the levy and how much it will be. For now we’ll have to put our faith in the government that the levy can successfully deliver everything we have been promised.

20th November Journal Column

APS Black logo 2015By Phillippa Webb, Associate CK21 and NE Chair of Association of Project Safety (APS)

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) announced last month that there will no longer be a grace period of six months for the Site Safety Plus Scheme. So what does this mean, and what does it mean for the industry?
Well, considering the CITB updated the Site Safety Plus rules following customer feedback, it seems this is something the industry wanted.
The Site Safety Plus Scheme provides the building, civil engineering and allied industries with a range of courses for people wanting to develop their skills in this area.

The courses range from a one-day Health and Safety Awareness course to the five-day Site Management Safety Training Scheme, and everything else in between. There is currently a six month grace period between the expiry date of a certificate and the date needed to attend a refresher course, but come the new year that’s all about to change.

After 31 December 2015, the removal of the grace period means you must attend a refresher course before the end date on your safety certificate. Let’s hope you all have good memories, because failure to attend the refresher before the certificate expires means you are required to attend the full course again, so you must be aware of the expiry date on your certificate.
But don’t fret, Cskills Awards have given us a little time to adjust to this change, but come 1 January no registrations will be made that are beyond the end date of the certificate without formal appeal.

That being said, if your certificate has expired, or you are within six months of expiry, you should attend a refresher course before the end of the year – and considering we’re half way through November that’s not much time at all.
The grace period for the Site Safety Plus scheme has been removed to bring the scheme in line with other Cskills Awards products.
The revised Scheme Rules and associated course appendices are available to download from the Site Safety Plus page on the Cskills Awards website.
For me, the removal of the grace period isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having a grace period in place plays down the importance of having an up-to-date safety certificate, there is less urgency to attend the refresher course. At least this way we know safety certificates will always be up-to-date, and skills are constantly being refreshed. It can’t do any harm to update and refresh your skills, in fact when it comes to health and safety it will do quite the opposite.

13th November Journal Column

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

I’m always supportive of getting young people into the industry and recruiting new staff, so it’s no surprise that I am thrilled with the information published in the recent report by Prospects.

The report shows that for architecture and building graduates, prospects are improving. Graduates from last year have topped the overall results for across the whole country. The employment rates for 2014 graduates were higher than average, with 85.1 per cent in work within six months of leaving university. Considering the overall employment rate for all graduates is only 76.6 per cent, I’d say that’s pretty good going for our industry.
Beating national averages can only mean good things and shows that the industry is going from strength to strength.

Only 5.3 per cent of graduates from 2014 were still unemployed after six months of graduating, and if we compare that to the rate of all graduates, 6.3 per cent, our industry is still coming in way above the rest. Across all subjects we’ve seen massive improvements; back in 2010 the unemployment rate six months after graduation was a lot higher at 10.9 per cent. Opportunities are increasing for graduates and in particular our graduates, which I love to see.

The report, published by Prospects, revealed the difference in employment outcomes among all graduates, showing which degrees are more likely to lead to a career in that particular area of study. Out of the top five, three were degrees relating to the industry; civil engineering, mechanical engineering and architecture and building; with them all having the highest rates out of the 24 that featured.

The Local Government Association (LGA) had previously announced that in the last five years the number of completed construction apprenticeships fell by 58 per cent, so it’s good to know students are still coming into the industry through other means. The LGA also reported earlier in the year that the numbers of students studying the subjects which relate to the industry are mainly boys, which wasn’t good news for an advocate of women in the industry like me. However, things finally seem to be changing, the Prospects report shows that across architectural related subjects almost 40 per cent of graduates were women – which is good enough for me.

As I have said many times before in this column, I am 100 per cent behind supporting new recruits, particularly students and young people, as I believe that the young people of today hold the future of our industry in their hands and we should therefore do all that we can to encourage them into the industry and show them exactly what construction can offer.

6th November Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

I’ve spoken several times about the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) this year, and here we are with it hitting the headlines once again.

First there were plans to scrap the 13 cards and introduce one smart card to eliminate the number of fake cards, which according to recent news hasn’t been too successful. Now, there’s been a call for construction safety tests to be made more vigorous following the recent scandal that test centres were taking cash to rig health and safety exams. I really can’t comprehend this, is it really worth risking someone’s life just to pass a test the first time? What is the point in doing a job if you aren’t doing it safely?

Some of the fraudulent qualifications were used to get work on building sites, a school and in probably one of the most dangerous places to be around, a power station.

The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) want the current test system to be replaced by a one day course to be paid for by the employers.

UCATT believe the CSCS cards still have significant value, which I totally agree with, the current system that is in place is one that everyone is aware of. Everyone in the industry knows what the cards are and what they represent.

It’s not about changing the cards, but more about changing the way in which firms acquire one. The current test is reasonably simple, a standard tick box exam which could be passed by somebody with good luck and a good ability to guess. The test needs to be able to prove that construction workers know their business.

I fully support the UCATT suggestion to introduce a one day course, yes it might cost the employer but so does the current test that you have to take part in. At least this way you can be certain your staff are fully aware of what they’re doing and that the company can operate safely.

Making it more difficult to acquire a CSCS card means we can be more certain than ever that companies and construction sites are operating safely, meaning we can protect the excellent reputation that the majority of the industry holds. Let’s not let a few cases of senseless fraudulent behaviour tarnish what I know is a good, honest and hard-working industry.

Construction is the UKs most dangerous employment sector. In the past five years alone, 221 workers have died. Surely paying a little extra money to ensure the safety of your staff and customers is worth it? In my eyes it certainly is …

30th October Journal Column

Identity ConsultBy Andrew Milnes BSc MRICS, Associate Director, Identity Consult

You may have heard of pop-up restaurants or pop-up shops which are opened temporarily to take advantage of demand for a trend or product … well now they’ve introduced the pop-up village!

The UKs first pop-up village, designed by architect Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners on behalf of Lewisham Council, aims to be a solution to the homes shortage problem. The development will provide temporary homes for families and space for community and business use.

In the past year, Lewisham Council has seen an increase in the number of families placed in temporary accommodation to nearly 600, costing them nearly £3million, and so the village will be used to help meet the high demand for emergency housing for homeless people. However it will also contain a range of commercial and community uses to re-animate a brownfield site while long term regeneration plans are developed and thereby also solve a common problem that occurs with the majority of development sites, which sit unused while plans come together.

Once the site is developed, the blocks can be dismantled and moved, meaning the village can be reused over and over again. Even if we were given just one pop-up village per city, I’m sure we’d see huge improvements in housing figures.

Lewisham Council has appointed SIG Building Systems as its Principal Contractor, who in turn are working alongside North East leading Development Consultancy, Identity Consult. The project will immediately take 24 families out of B&Bs and assuming that every family has an average stay of one year, during the four years before they find permanent accommodation, then that will be almost 100 families that have benefited from the development. Pretty amazing if you ask me, so amazing that I must ask, when will it be coming to the North East?

The villages would be a huge help in the North East, they could be used to help get young people on the property ladder or be used to re-house those who need it, whilst they look for a more permanent solution.

The UK as a whole has previously struggled to build enough homes to meet the growing demand, frustrating potential home owners. But these reforms look set to solve an age-old problem that local authorities have failed to plan ahead for meaningful developments; although we still have the issue of delivery. The skills shortage in the industry means that builders are turning down projects and this problem will only get worse with an increased development demand. The pressure should ease knowing there could be a solution making its way to the North East to house families, whilst builders and the council attempt to meet the ever growing demand for new homes. Let’s hope a village ‘pops-up’ around the North East in the near future!

23rd October Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

I’ve spoken about my support for the development of Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology before. And the Government seemed to agree with me when they announced the BIM Mandate, which states that all firms tendering for Government projects must be using Level 2 BIM technology by 2016.

The announcement meant that all firms had to start thinking about using the technology, especially if they wanted to be able to tender for Government projects. But with 2016 only two months away, I would expect all firms to have progressed a lot further than just thinking about BIM  … but it seems my expectations are a far cry from reality.

According to a survey by the Electrical Contractors Association, the industry is way behind in the Government’s timetable. Only 16 per cent of firms in the building sector are BIM ready, over half (57 per cent) aren’t fully ready and 27 per cent aren’t ready at all, despite the deadline being just months away.

The results show that awareness of BIM is high across building services, and although they are aware of BIM and the looming deadline, most firms still have a long way to go in order to meet it.

The results indicate that while some companies have already engaged with BIM, many more have yet to consider it. Although the advantages of BIM have been highlighted, more so this week, due to Digital Construction Week, there are still some SMEs that think BIM isn’t as relevant to them as it is for larger organisations, but they could not be more wrong.

BIM isn’t just about the software. The processes and systems used have just as much importance, if not more. Some of the SMEs I’ve spoken to in the past said this is what puts them off. However, it really shouldn’t be the deciding factor in whether this technology is used or not, and you don’t really have a choice anymore if you want to tender for Government projects. All businesses need to do is ensure they have the process infrastructure in place that can help them deliver BIM and the technical capability to administer the correct information.

Don’t worry, it isn’t as complicated as it seems. BIM doesn’t require drastic change in the way things are currently done. Firms should take a problem-solving approach and pick just one area of their workflow they want to improve and then use BIM as part of the solution.

There are some great examples of organisations using BIM well and in the North East, there are numerous SMEs using the technology to their full advantage. So there’s plenty of evidence to show those organisations slightly wary of the next step that it’s definitely worth it.

16th October Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

The industry has welcomed the new National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) with open arms.

The newly formed body, which was announced by Chancellor George Osborne, will be charged with offering an unbiased analysis of the UK’s infrastructure needs. They got to work immediately when news of the NIC was announced on 5 October and are led by Lord Andrew Adonis.

I have faith that an unbiased panel will be able to make decisions based on the UK’s needs as a whole, rather than doing it as a Conservative or Labour Party, which often makes it difficult to agree on such things. Taking the politics out of major infrastructure decisions will ensure the best decisions are made for everyone. Having a cross-party consensus and an independent chair will help us make major decisions as a nation, something that’s long been needed.

It will assess the UK’s infrastructure needs every five years, as well as looking ahead 30 years to assess future infrastructure requirements across all key sectors including, rail, roads, energy, water supply and waste. We need big improvements in both transport and energy systems to help the infrastructure sector boom.

With new opinions and a fresh perspective to assess infrastructure requirements to shake up the sector, it will hopefully get us out of the rut we have been stuck in, which in the past has failed to produce the roads, railways, airports, power stations and homes that we need.

Don Ward, chief executive of Constructing Excellence is extremely supportive of the new body, but thinks that its first priority should be housing.

As he said: “You can’t divorce housing from city and regional developments, if it’s about developing the economy for the 21st century, it has to look at the workforce too.”

It’s difficult to change and modernise the housing market, but we need to decide strategically where we’re going to put it. If we put it with the NIC at least we know there will be an independent commission looking at the problem, which is perhaps what is needed, as the government have failed to meet its needs in the past.

The NIC will be made up of around 25-30 permanent staff and I’m hoping they will make the bold decisions that the sector has been crying out for. I urge them to take the risks that people have always been too wary of. The building of the M25 and the Channel Tunnel were both highly protested at the time, just imagine where the country would be now if that hadn’t gone ahead?

9th October Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

It seems our prayers have finally been answered; the effort is being made to address the skills gap and to get young people into the industry.

Wherever you look, there are campaigns to encourage people to consider a career in construction and to increase the skills of those that are – which is what I’ve been wanting to see for so long.

We’re currently supporting The Armed Forces Employability Pathway programme (AFEP) which links Army Reserves, Local Authority, Job Centre Plus and local employers to assist participants into work.

The six week programme consists of team building, problem solving exercises and help writing CVs. It ends with a placement within the industry, and a review to discuss strengths and weaknesses.

The Journal have just launched their ‘Let’s Work Together Campaign’ and the CITB have recently launched their Go Construct campaign, both encouraging companies to address the skills gap in the region. They are working towards filling the 220,000 jobs that are needed in the next few years.  The campaigns were launched following research that showed that four in five respondents wish they had been given more advice on a career in construction when considering career options.

The problem seems to lie with education, not just in skills and training like you would expect, but more in simply educating people on what the industry can offer them.

The private sector, education and the Government must unite and work together in order to solve the skills gap crisis and allow the industry to grow.

The Government have offered their support by announcing that the apprentice and national minimum wage will increase from this month. The apprentice wage has increased by 57p per hour, which is the largest increase in history, making apprenticeships more attractive to young people.

But we need help and support to spread the word about our industry, why we love it and what it can offer. That’s why I think UK Construction Week is such a good idea.

UK Construction Week, the biggest trade event for professionals, launched this week and will run from 6-11 October. The event will include shows specific to UK construction, and allow professionals to come together and address issues, develop skills, seek out and recognise talent.

Having such a big event to celebrate the industry helps to spread the word on what the industry has to offer, which is exactly what we need.

I for one, love working in construction and am proud of what we have to offer. So let’s spread the word and educate industry novices, shout it from the roof tops if we have to, (roof tops that were built by workers from our industry, just in case you didn’t know!).

11th September Journal Column

By Paul Wilkinson, Director, pwcom.co.uk

To many in the construction industry, late payment is a necessary evil. We almost take it for granted that some companies – often main contractors – will insist on long payment periods, but this credit can be abused as they find reasons to delay settlement of invoices until it suits them. This all adds to the cost of delivering construction projects, undermining the efforts of the UK government and other clients to achieve greater value from their supply chains.

Textura recently conducted a survey looking at the impacts of late payment. Opinions, which formed the survey results, showed that contractors often use the same excuses for not paying on time or not paying at all, such as; the director is on holiday or they haven’t received an invoice.  It is also thought that main contractors are leaning on their supply chain as a banking facility to command growth and bigger companies use late payments as a way of free financing from small businesses. As a result, many subcontractors have responded by inflating their tender prices to cover the costs they incur when their customers pay late. The survey was completed by over 100 respondents and, found that on average, 4 per cent is added to costs to cover late payment. The subcontractors surveyed did say that they would discount prices by an average of 2.35 per cent if contractors paid promptly – within 30 days. I fully believe that ‘digitising’ construction payment would be beneficial. As the industry is digitising, optimising and integrating collaborative design and construction processes (through BIM and other techniques), why isn’t it simultaneously digitising procurement and payment? It doesn’t quite make sense that we can manage complex 21st century logistical challenges, such as offsite fabrications, but many suppliers are still victim to out-dated construction payment practices.

While the UK has raced ahead with its BIM adoption drive, a quiet revolution has been occurring in the US relating to payment management. By streamlining and automating large parts of their payment processes, companies have managed to double revenue without recruiting more staff, save the annual equivalent of two members of staff and save project managers and the accounting team 210 man-hours each month.

While late payment is one of the most significant issues facing UK subcontractors, the US have shown that it can be tackled. Significant benefits might be achieved by forward-looking UK construction businesses that in turn could help add value to their construction industry clients, helping achieve the targets set out in the “Construction 2025” report.